Coach Cooke is a proud man as part of Chesterfield’s Rio dream team

Chesterfield's Alan Cooke, far right, and Liam Pitchford, centre, will head to the Rio Olympics in August
Chesterfield's Alan Cooke, far right, and Liam Pitchford, centre, will head to the Rio Olympics in August

Chesterfield will have a strong presence at the Rio Olympics, thanks to a table tennis dream team.

The town’s star player Liam Pitchford has qualified for the men’s singles through his international ranking, and he will be joined in Brazil by his coach – fellow Chesterfield man Alan Cooke.

The England national coach says the World Championship bronze medals won by Pitchford and compatriots Paul Drinkhall and Sam Walker in Malaysia in March were the highlight of his career.

So it’s little wonder he was filled with pride when Pitchford and Drinkhall were confirmed as qualifiers for this summer’s Olympic Games.

“It’s something we’ve aimed for all season. Liam has had a terrific season getting across the line and getting an Olympic slot.

“It’s a very, very big moment for him and well deserved.

“I sit with the players at the start of every season and discuss goals. This year at Table Tennis england the goal was to get them to the Rio Games, that was part of the remit.

“It will help Liam in his development, it will help Table Tennis England in terms of promoting the game to the next generation of kids.

“In terms of the team, we wanted to stay in the top division at the World Championships to be a top 16 country and we went far beyond that expectation.

“That put us in a situation where we are sitting very close to qualifying a team for the Olympics. The team slots will be announced tomorrow and we’re quite optimistic.”

Coaches and managers are judged on the results of their players and Cooke’s players have delivered in buckets this season, making his job an enjoyable one.

“I’ve had a renewed energy, working with players like Liam, it’s exciting to have players this talented.

“It’s been stressful, you play every point with them in those tough matches.

“But the moment we got the medals at the World Championship was probably the proudest moment of my career, playing and coaching.

“It’s great working with them, they’re desperate to be the best they can be, and that fits with me perfectly.

“I will do whatever it takes to help them get to where they want to do.”

Cooke will travel to Brazil as coach to Pitchford and Drinkhall and admits it’s a boost for Chesterfield.

“There’s a good history of table tennis in Chesterfield, Liam has obviously put the town at the cutting edge of the sport.

“We’re very proud.

“We’ve been at home all week working in Chesterfield, which is a bit of a rarity, but it’s great to see him and do some work with him at home.”